The road trip that consumed the first month of the St. Croix Central football season is over and the Panthers came through the trek 4-0. The Panthers won their fourth straight road game to start the season on Friday with a 54-14 win at Ellsworth.

Central will play its first two home games of the season over the next two Fridays and they will face two of their main rivals for the Middle Border Conference crown in those games. Next week the Panthers will host New Richmond and the following Friday, it will be Baldwin-Woodville that invades the Panthers’ turf.

While the 54-14 final score from Friday’s game at Ellsworth is impressive, it only tells half the story. The game was tied 14-14 at halftime, before Central erupted for 40 unanswered points in the second half.

Central found out quickly that Ellsworth running back Max Grand is something special. Grand scored both of Ellsworth’s touchdowns, the second coming on a 76-yard sprint after he broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage. Ellsworth had 149 yards rushing in the first half, but halftime adjustments by Central limited Ellsworth to 10 yards on the ground in the second half.

Central coach John Tackmann said that change came from some “encouragement” that was given to the players in Central’s defensive front at halftime.

“We played a horrible first half,” Tackmann said in a team-wide assessment. “We told our (defensive) front five they had to take away running lanes.”

The problems weren’t just on defense. On offense, Central fumbled on three straight snaps. The third was recovered by Ellsworth, setting up the first touchdown of the game.

Central came back with first quarter touchdowns from Jacob Roussopoulos and Trevor Kopacz to lead 14-7. The only touchdown of the second quarter was on Grand’s 76-yarder.

The success of the offense and defense went hand-in-hand in the second half. The defense consistently shut down Ellsworth. That gave the offense short fields to work with and they capitalized for five offensive scores. That started with scores from Kopacz and Roussopoulos. Gabe Siler scored on a 14-yard pass from Taden Holzer for Central’s third touchdown of the third quarter.

Braeden Bloom scored twice in the fourth quarter. The final touchdown came when Central defensive end Zac Holme returned a fumble 12 yards to the end zone. It was his second fumble recovery of the half.

Central’s offense had excellent balance. Kopacz finished with 169 yards on 19 carries. Bloom rushed for 61 yards, Roussopoulous 60 and Holzer 58.